Dear Big Daddy,
I'm new at my job in the Capitol, but I've already come across an
interesting fact about life in the building: Nepotism is rampant. What do
you think of this? Is it better or worse than when you were speaker?
–Confused in Carmichael
Given that the number of people working at the Capitol has eclipsed the size
of the Luxembourg army five times over, I'd have to say the problem has
grown larger than an elderly man's prostate gland.
The term "nepotism" actually goes back centuries and comes from the Latin
word "nepos," meaning "nephew" (not "lazy, name-dropping, three-eyed
relative" as many people assume). Some Catholic popes and bishops who took
vows of chastity in the Middle Ages gave their nephews positions that
normally were given by fathers to their sons. Over the years, it's evolved
into a derogatory term, as if to say that being related to someone in the
same profession automatically means the person, (a) got their job solely
because of that connection, (b) is incompetent, or (c) both a and b.
Now, nepotism in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all,
while Bobby Kennedy most certainly wouldn't have been the U.S. attorney
general if his brother weren't the president, I doubt anyone could question
his competence with a straight face. Just because a person is related to
someone else doesn't, by definition, make them incompetent. It just seems
that way far too often.
As a staffer, I can only imagine the dread you must feel when you're working
with someone and a problem or disagreement arises, which immediately leads
them to try and solve it by saying, "Did I mention I'm senator so-and-so's
third cousin on his mother's side?" If that happens, the best advice I can
give you is to stop everything and run, don't walk, to the nearest fire
exit, because chances are you're working with someone who, whenever things
get tough, will direct you to the note pinned to their shirt that reads, "I
go through life with gum on my shoe and I drink wine coolers."
Not that I don't have sympathy for your plight, but imagine what the
Assembly leadership folks have to go through every election cycle in this
term-limited era. Yes, I'm referring to the dreaded LSS, or Legislative
There are plenty of things that qualify a person to run for office, but when
the hell did marriage get added to that list? Just because you put your wife
or husband on the campaign payroll doesn't mean he or she qualified to
represent 425,000 people.
You want a legacy? Let's talk about Lindy Boggs replacing her husband, Hale,
when he died in a 1972 plane crash, bringing an abrupt end to a 26-year
congressional career in which he was instrumental in ushering most of
President Johnson's "Great Society" legislation through Congress. Or Sala
Burton, who took over for the legendary Phil Burton when he died of cancer
after serving eight years in the Legisalture and 19 years in Congress.
A six-year "career" in the state Assembly, the highlight of which was
chairing the Assembly Arts & Crafts Committee, doesn't qualify as a
"legacy" and doesn't entitle that person's husband or wife to have the
primary field cleared for her.
For every Phil and John Burton, you get saddled with the Multiplicity
Triplets on the other side of the coin. As for fathers and sons, the apple
generally falls not just far from the tree, but far from the whole freaking
orchard, meaning the younger makes the elder look like a founding member of
Mensa, or vice-versa.
If you're savvy enough to ask this kind of a question, I'm confident you
won't have a thing to worry about. Your sister, however